Established: June 29, 1906
Area: 52,074 acres (21,240 ha)
History of Mesa Verde National Park:
On June 29, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt established Mesa Verde National Park to „preserve the works of man,“ the first national park of its kind. Today, the continued preservation of both cultural and natural resources is the focus of the park’s research and resource management staff.
About 1,400 years ago, long before Europeans explored North America, a group of people living in the Four Corners region chose Mesa Verde for their home. For more than 700 years they and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Then, in the late A.D. 1200s, in the span of a generation or two, they left their homes and moved away. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture.
Cliff Dwellings – The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde are some of the most notable and best preserved in the North American Continent. Sometime during the late 1190s, after primarily living on the mesa top for 600 years, many Ancestral Puebloans began living in pueblos they built beneath the overhanging cliffs. The structures ranged in size from one-room storage units to villages of more than 150 rooms. While still farming the mesa tops, they continued to reside in the alcoves, repairing, remodeling, and constructing new rooms for nearly a century. By the late 1270s, the population began migrating south into present-day New Mexico and Arizona. By 1300, the Ancestral Puebloan occupation of Mesa Verde ended.
Tickets are required to tour cliff dwellings (Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Long House on Wetherill Mesa).
How to get to Mesa Verde National Park:
From Cortez, take US 160 east for 8 miles to the park entrance, then follow the winding park road 15 miles to Far View Visitor Center and 5.5 miles farther to the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum, and a cliff dwelling – Spruce Tree House. Trailers are not allowed past Morefield Village Campground. Airports: Cortez and Durango.
When to go to Mesa Verde National Park:
Year-round. Wetherill Mesa, Far View Visitor Center, Cliff Palace Loop, Balcony House, and many services are closed in winter. Wildflowers bloom from April through September. In winter, cross-country skiing is allowed in Morefield and on the Cliff Palace Loop Road When conditions permit.
Hiking trails in Mesa Verde National Park:
Prater Ridge Trail
Mileage: 7.8 miles, round-trip
Description: Begins on the west end of Morefield Campground. The trail ascends Prater Ridge and follows a loop around the top of the ridge, returning via the same route. A cut-off trail can be taken which shortens the trail to five miles.
Natural History: Changes in elevation and vegetation along with views of the surrounding area are highlights of this trail.
Knife Edge Trail
Mileage: 2 miles, round-trip
Description: The trail follows a section of the old Knife Edge Road, from the northwest corner of Morefield Campground towards the Montezuma Valley Overlook. This trail provides good views of Montezuma Valley and is an excellent place to watch a sunset.
Cultural History: Built in 1914 as the main access into the park, old-timers still proudly talk about what a feat it was to build, or „hang,“ a road on this steep bluff.
Point Lookout Trail
Mileage: 2.2 miles, round-trip
Description: The trail switchbacks up the back side of Point Lookout and traverses the top of the mesa. This trail provides excellent views of both Montezuma and Mancos valleys, as well as the surrounding countryside.
Chapin Mesa Trailheads
Petroglyph Point Trail
Mileage: 2.4 miles, round-trip
Description: Begins from the Spruce Tree House trail, and continues below the edge of the plateau to a petroglyph panel, makes a climb to the top of the mesa and returns via the rim to the museum. This trail provides views of Spruce and Navajo Canyons and is the only trail in the park to view petroglyphs. Gate access to trail is only available when Spruce Tree House is open.
Spruce Canyon Trail
Mileage: 2.4 miles, round-trip
Description: Begins from the Spruce Tree House trail, follows the bottom of Spruce Tree Canyon, turns up Spruce Canyon, and returns to the museum via the picnic area. Gate access to this trail is only available when Spruce Tree House is open.
Natural History: The Spruce Canyon Trail offers an opportunity to explore the canyon bottoms of Mesa Verde and discover the plants and wildlife that live in this habitat.
Soda Canyon Overlook Trail
Mileage: 1.2 miles, round-trip
Description: Begins one mile north of the Balcony House parking area along the Cliff Palace Loop Road. The trail is an easy walk to the canyon edge and offers views of Balcony House and other archeological sites along Soda Canyon.
Natural History: The trail goes through big sagebrush, Utah juniper, yucca, and gambel oak.This is a fairly low-growing, open area and will be hot in the summer.
Farming Terrace Trail
Mileage: 5 mile, round-trip
Description: Beginning and ending on the spur road to Cedar Tree Tower, this 1/2 mile loop leads to a series of prehistoric check dams built by the Ancestral Puebloans to create farming terraces.
Natural History: This trail is a good place to look for lizards, hummingbirds, and a wide variety of plants.
Wetherill Mesa Trailheads (open Memorial Day to Labor Day)
Nordenskiold Site No. 16 Trail
Mileage: 1 mile (1.6 km), round-trip
Time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Description: This trail offers a leisurely stroll on the quietest trail in Mesa Verde, and leads to an overlook of Nordenskiold Site No. 16. The 2000 Pony Fire severely burned this area. As a result, there is no shade available along the trail. Trail guide available.
Cultural History: In 1891, 23-year old Swedish scientist Gustaf Nordenskiold visited Mesa Verde. Using painstaking field methods for his time, he excavated many sites, including this one. His book, „The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde,“ was the first extensive examination and photographic record of Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings.
Long House Ranger-guided Tour
Mileage: 0.7 miles (1 km) round-trip
Time: 1.5 hours
Description: Meet the ranger at the ranger kiosk. A tram will transport you to a shaded shelter and trailhead. The trail is paved but drops down steps and switchbacks to the base of Long House. A twenty-foot ladder leads into the back of the dwelling and steps lead back down into the plaza.
Step House Loop Trail
Mileage: 0.8 miles (1.3 km) to complete the loop
Time: 40 minutes to 1 hour
Description: This trail begins across from the ranger kiosk and descends steeply into Long Canyon. Step House is named for the long narrow stone steps leading to the mesa top. During excavation in 1926, archeologists discovered an older pit house village beneath the trash midden.
Badger House Community Trail
Mileage: 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from ranger kiosk to Two Raven House tram stop
Time: 1.5 hours
Description: This trail begins from the ranger kiosk and heads south, gently dropping in elevation. After passing the junction to Nordenskiold Site # 16 trail, the trail winds through four mesa top sites in the Badger House Community. There are several tram stops where hikers can also ride to cliff dwelling overlooks and back to the ranger kiosk.
Mesa Verde National Park Visitor Guide
Guide to National Parks of the United States